Writing Contracts with Your Kids

by Kelly

Kelly Curtis - Professional speaker, writer and counselor*** Monthly Feature Column ***

Positively Speaking
Building Assets in your Kids

by Kelly Curtis, M.S., author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things.

We see many rites of passage as our children grow: first playdate, first day of school, first slumber party away from home. I think you get the picture. In our family, our most recent transition has been first Facebook account and much discussion and planning occurred before our 13-year-old finally gained access to the wonderful world of Facebook, including a written contract.

You can read our Facebook contract for parents of teenagers here.

Search Institute has identified Family Boundaries as one of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future.

As our children get older, we believe we will use written contracts quite often – our kids want something, and parents want a certain behavior. It’s a perfect combination, and facilitates communication.

While preteens and teenagers may nod their heads respectfully when we communicate expectations verbally, a written contract eliminates any misunderstandings. Confusing language can be addressed and changed prior to signing the contract, so both parties start from the same point.

TIPS FOR WRITING CONTRACTS

Use positive language – focusing on what to do, rather than what not to do is a more effective way of communicating in general. Our minds naturally focus on the action word, so we often ignore the “no” or “not” that’s in front of it.

Decide what you really want
– trying to meet too many goals in a contract will doom it to fail. For our contract, the overall goal was “safety”, so we tried to focus most of our language toward that end.

Collaborate with your child – asking your child to help write the contract will make it more feasible for him or her to be successful, while still maintaining the integrity of it.

Establish consequences – make it clear that if your child doesn’t uphold the contract, the consequences will be enforced. Typically the consequence is simply removing the privilege the contract allows.

Provide feedback while the contract is in force – ongoing conversation about responsibility related to the privilege is key in helping kids to maintain excellent behavior. Mention it, when you notice they’re making good choices, and gently refer to the contract if you see something that makes you think they might be struggling with it.

My daughter has been using her new Facebook account for more than two months now, enjoys it a lot and stays within the boundaries we set together. Her ability to show us responsibility in the realm of Facebook gives us confidence that she’ll also be successful with the next contract we create with her – for whatever reason we need one.

How will you use written contracts with your kids? What works for you?

Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.


Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch or follow her on Twitter.



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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 One Crusty mom-E February 6, 2010 at 3:47 pm

I’m not quite there yet, have a couple years left, but still, this was such a helpful usual post..because I would have zero clue on how to write the right words.

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2 Tonya February 6, 2010 at 9:08 pm

do you think it is best to start the contracts at the teen years? I look forward to putting this wisdom to good use! Thanks

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3 Kelly February 7, 2010 at 7:50 am

I’m so glad this is helpful to you!

Tonya – The first contract we wrote was when my daughter turned 13. That was the first time we thought about it. I think that earlier than that it could have been an effective tool, though, thinking back. It’s worth a shot, at whatever time. You can just adjust the language to the match the age of your child.

Best wishes!

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4 Jennifer February 7, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Great ideas! I love training myself to use positive language and thinking of what I truly desire as far as outcomes.

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5 jing lejano February 8, 2010 at 7:41 am

Hey! This contract thing is a good idea. It gives your child a feeling of independence :) Thanks for sharing!

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6 Holly February 9, 2010 at 1:00 am

Very helpful to know for the future!

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7 Cascia February 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm

My daughter just got a cell phone for the first time and we made her sign a contract. I think contracts are very helpful in teaching your children responsibility.

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8 marty March 21, 2012 at 10:19 am

my dauter is making a contract for when her brother gets here. She doesnt want her brother to touch anything of hers.

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